Photo: Steven Guzzardi
Why We've Welcomed Cast Iron Back Into Our Kitchen
This is the first of a 4-part series of posts on cast iron:
Part 1: Why We’ve Welcomed Cast Iron Back Into Our Kitchen
Part 4: Our 2 Essential Cast Iron Skillet Accessories (Scheduled publish date: Tuesday, January 29th, 2019)
Part 1: Why We've Welcomed Cast Iron Back Into Our Kitchen
When my wife and I first moved in together, we had a small, heavy, black skillet made of one solid piece of metal. We didn’t know where it came from or what it was, but we do remember that it had a perfectly smooth cooking surface, and that anything we tried to cook in it stuck like crazy. We also found that every time we took it from the drying rack the morning after we washed it, spots of rust had formed on it. We can’t recall if we gave it away, or simply threw it in the trash, but we didn’t keep that skillet.
Our story is likely similar to that of many other families. Cast iron has been around for centuries, and was the cookware of choice in American kitchens well into the early 20th century. Skillets coated with Teflon then became extremely popular after their introduction in the early 1960s, and by the end of the 20th century, nonstick skillets were much more common than cast iron, and most American producers of cast iron had gone out of business.
We’d give anything to go back 20 years to retrieve that beautiful vintage cast iron skillet! Instead, we loaded up on Teflon. About 10 years ago, we expanded our repertoire to include a few stainless steel skillets, hoping for more durability, heat conductivity, and the option to take our cookware from stovetop to oven. It was only in the last couple of years that we, like many others, found our way back to cast iron skillets.
What They Are For
Cast iron skillets excel at many cooking tasks. We use ours to:
- shallow fry
- deep fry
- reheat leftovers
What Makes Them Different
They Improve With Use
Over time, layers of hardened, polymerized fat build up on the cooking surface of cast iron. This build-up, referred to as “seasoning,” helps improve cooking performance and creates a protective layer that also gives cast iron nonstick properties that can eventually rival Teflon-coated cookware.
They Conduct Heat Poorly
Cast iron as a material is a terrible heat conductor. Heat spreads throughout cast iron skillets very slowly, and they take a long time to get hot. But, once hot, they are also very slow to cool down. Dave Arnold’s post at Cooking Issues goes into this in great detail.
Why We Love Them
They Sear Beautifully
Since cast iron retains heat, the temperature of cast iron skillets does not drop significantly when food is placed on their cooking surface. This helps quickly achieve a great, tasty crust on the outside of your food.
They Go From Stovetop to Oven... to Table!
With their 1-piece construction, cast iron skillets move seamlessly from the cooktop to the oven, and with their heat retention abilities and good looks, we like to bring them to the dining table too.
They Are Versatile
They cook on gas, electric, ceramic glass and induction cooktops. You can even take them camping and cook over an open flame!
They Are Great For Small Kitchens
Without much difficulty, you could use one cast iron skillet for everything you cook. Forever. We know people who do just that, and even leave their skillet on the stovetop permanently. How’s that for a space saver?
They Are Incredibly Durable
Cast iron is our all-time winner of the durability prize! It is practically indestructible. We even use all types of utensils in it, including metal. Plus, even the oldest, most beat-up, rusted skillet can be restored to working order.
They Are Very Affordable
Good quality cast iron cookware can be purchased at ridiculously low prices, especially when you consider that it can be passed down for generations.
They Can Provide Dietary Iron
Are you seeking to increase your iron intake? Studies have shown that iron can be released into foods that are cooked in cast iron cookware. Read Chelsea Clark’s article about this at University Health News.
What's Not to Love
- Since cast iron is slow to adjust to temperature changes, it takes practice to control the heat, and you can’t quickly change from one temperature to another.
- Cast iron skillets need to be preheated (ideally in the oven). You need to plan ahead, although this is no different than preheating an oven before baking in it.
- Cast iron is heavy. Very heavy!
What About Enameled Cast Iron?
Cast iron comes either bare (uncoated) or enameled (coated with layers of enameled paint). We are discussing uncoated cast iron in this series of blog posts, and are not big fans of enameled cast iron skillets. They are more expensive, less durable, and food tends to stick to the cooking surface, which does not build up the nonstick qualities that a well seasoned traditional cast iron skillet can.